Friday, March 11, 2011

NT Use of OT Part 12: Matt 1:22-23 and Divine Correspondence between Israel and Jesus

As I stated in an earlier entry, at times Matthew quoted the OT to show a divinely intended correspondence between Israel and Jesus. This happens most often in the early chapters of Matthew’s gospel. One of Matthew’s purposes, as he wrote to a primarily Jewish audience, was to show that Jesus was God’s greater Son and the corporate head of Israel. One of the ways to do this was to show that events in Israel’s history prefigured events in the life of Jesus. This happens three times in Matthew 1 and 2.

The first example is found in Matthew’s use of Isa 7:14. In Matt 1:21 an angel tells Mary that she will bear a son who will save His people Israel from their sins. Matt 1:22–23 then states:

Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL,” which translated means, “GOD WITH US.”

A major interpretive issue is whether the Hebrew term, almah, in Isa 7:14 should be translated “young woman” or “virgin.” A case can be made for the former but the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the OT) translates this term as “virgin” (parthenos). Matthew clearly interprets the word as “virgin” (parthenos) when applying it to Jesus, so clearly Matthew is indicating that Jesus experienced a virgin birth.

But almah in Isa 7:14 is not as specific. The translation of “young woman” is probably a good one although “young woman” may also include the idea that the young woman is a virgin so the concept of “virgin” should not be divorced from almah. So what is the connection between Matt 1:22-23 and Isa 7:14? In what sense is Isa 7:14 fulfilled with Jesus’ virgin birth? Four views have been offered: (1) there is no connection view (liberal); (2) prediction of Jesus only view; (3) multiple fulfillment view; and (4) divine correspondence/typology view.

The first position is the “there is no connection view.” This asserts that Isaiah was referring to a child being born in his own day that has no connection with Jesus Christ. This view is unacceptable since this perspective denies the inspiration of Bible and flatly contradicts what Matthew is claiming.

The second position—“prediction of Jesus only view”—claims that the prediction of Isa 7:14 was not fulfilled in any way in Isaiah’s day but is solely a prophecy of the virgin birth of Jesus. Thus, Isa 7:14 was only fulfilled when Jesus Christ was born of a virgin centuries later. This view falls short, though, since holding it means ignoring the context of Isaiah 7. The historical figure, King Ahaz of Judah, was facing a real threat from the two predator kingdoms of Aram and Israel. Isa 7:15-17 indicates that the child to come signals the end of Ahaz’s enemies. And it is true historically that both these kingdoms were conquered and removed by the Assyrian empire. Thus, Isa 7:14 has to have some relevance to Ahaz in his day because what was stated was said to be a sign to him.

The third view—“multiple fulfillment view”—states that there are two referents with the Isa 7:14 prophecy. Isaiah’s prophecy finds an initial fulfillment with a child born in his day (first referent), but the final and full fulfillment takes place with Jesus Christ (second referent). This view is possible. I will argue that the divine correspondence/typology view mentioned below is more likely but this position is defensible. Isaiah does predict a greater Child in 9:6–7:

  6For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us;
         And the government will rest on His shoulders;
         And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
         Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
    7There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace,
         On the throne of David and over his kingdom,
         To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness
         From then on and forevermore
          The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this. (NASB)

Isaiah understood that there would be a child born in Ahaz’s day who would fulfill the Isa 7:14 prophecy, but Isaiah also prophesied concerning the coming divine Child, Jesus Christ. To me, the presence of Isa 9:6-7 does not mean there will be a double fulfillment of Isa 7:14. It means that Isa 7:14 was a prophecy about a child to be born in Isaiah’s day who would prefigure Jesus Christ, while Isa 9:6-7 was a prophecy only about Jesus Christ.

The fourth view—the “divine correspondence/typology view”—asserts that Isaiah prophesied of a child who would be born in his time that would serve as a sign to King Ahaz of Judah that the two predator kingdoms against Judah—Aram and Israel—would be removed as threats. But in addition, this child born in Isaiah’s day to a young woman prefigures the divine child, Jesus Christ, who was born of a virgin and most fully represents God’s presence among His people. Thus, the child born in Isaiah’s day prefigures or serves as a type of Jesus Christ. Not only does Matthew point this out, but Isaiah may have had this idea in mind as well since he speaks of a “child” who would be born in his day in 7:14 but then discusses a “child” who could only be the Messiah in Isa 9:6-7. Therefore, it would not be surprising to me if Isaiah viewed the child predicted in 7:14 as corresponding to the greater child of Isa 9:6-7.

In summary, the child Isaiah spoke of in Isa 7:14 was a child born in his day who would serve as a real sign to King Ahaz. But under inspiration, Matthew tells us that the child of Isaiah’s day who was born of a young woman corresponds to God’s greater Child, Jesus, who was born of a virgin. I believe this view fits nicely with the broader context of Matthew 2 in which on two other occasions Matthew will indicate that a historical event in Israel’s history prefigures or corresponds to events in the life of Jesus (Matt 2:15/Hos 11:1; Matt 2:17-18/Jer 31:15).

Thus, the use of Isa 7:14 in Matt 1:22-23 falls under the category of—“Divine Correspondence between Israel and Jesus.”


  1. Oh no! I've always held the "prediction of Jesus only" view! I must say, however, that even though I still don't agree, I find this "typological" proposal to be a much better explanation than the ever so popular "multiple fulfillment" view. Perhaps this typological notion could help us better understand the Hosea 11:1 passage? Or am I getting ahead of you? =)

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  3. Sorry, I had a typo in my previous response. I do think the correspondence approach helps us in understanding the three tough texts in Matt 1-2.

  4. Mike, in Is 7, do you give any weight to the change in audience from Ahaz to the "house of David?"

    Personally I find that to be significant. The sign was not to Ahaz at all. He had his chance and when he chickened out, God effectively bypassed him and spoke directly to the house of David and reassured them that they could not be wiped out because their future king's birth was still future.


  5. Hi James, Yes, I think what you stated is possible. In fact, I looked long and hard at Michael Rydelnik's explanation of this view before I posted my blog. I respect this view. I just think it has a hard time explaining the significance of the removal of the two predator kingdoms in Isaiah's day. If Matt 2:15 and 2:17-18 were not making such clear typological connections I might even give that view more credence but I still lean toward the typological view.